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I’m reading a book in which these two words often occur right next to each other as so: “… dass das …” Is there a difference in their pronunciation? If so, how can I make that clear? Do I need to use a certain pronunciation to differentiate it from a phrase like “… das das …” for example or is the context sufficient for that purpose?

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    You used an obsolet spelling: Since 1996 we don't write »daß« but »dass«. You can find the old spelling in books that are older than 20 years, but in modern German »daß« is considered to be wrong. I corrected your question. – Hubert Schölnast Apr 23 '16 at 13:28
  • @HubertSchölnast I'm reading the German translation of the Book of Mormon if that puts things into better context. – intcreator Apr 23 '16 at 17:33
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    In English, the past tense of to read has the same pronunciation as the colour red as well. Nobody has difficulties with parsing spoken sentences like "Last week, I read red books" – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 23 '16 at 18:23
  • @HagenvonEitzen youtu.be/KVN_0qvuhhw?t=5m53s – Carsten S Apr 23 '16 at 21:17
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There is no difference in pronunciation (not in Hochdeutsch at least), and you don't need to differentiate them, since grammar orders them. That is:

das dass (✗)

is forbidden by grammar rules. In particular, dass requires a punctuation sign, in fact:

das, dass
das. Dass
das; dass

are possible.

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    I would slightly disagree on pronunciation with regards to vocal length - das is spoken with a longer, sometimes even stretched vocal "a" compared to dass - Typically overemphasized by teachers reading a dictation to their pupils to hint the difference. – tofro Apr 23 '16 at 7:32
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    Today's correct spelling is "dass" – Iris Apr 23 '16 at 10:25
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    @tofro: »Das« und »dass« werden genau gleich ausgesprochen. Die Aussprache, mit IPA-Symbolen geschrieben, lautet in beiden Fällen: [das]. Das ist ja auch genau der Grund, warum so viele Menschen diese beiden Wörter beim Schreiben vertauschen. (Möglicherweise gibt es in nördlicheren Regionen einen Unterschied, der kann aber auch nicht besonders groß sein) – Hubert Schölnast Apr 23 '16 at 13:25
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    @HubertSchölnast Nein, der Grund für die Falschschreibung ist eine Grammatikschwäche - wer Relativsätze nicht erkennen kann, kann auch das und dass nicht unterscheiden. Deswegen wird jeder vernünftige Deutschlehrer ein falsches das/dass auch nicht als Rechtschreibfehler, sondern als Grammatikfehler werten. – Thorsten Dittmar Apr 23 '16 at 14:42
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    @ThorstenDittmar The rule you quote only tells us that dass has a short a (as it should be written daß otherwise). This does not say anything about the length of a in das. There is a proper name Dahs that does have a long a. During my schooldays in northern Germany, I have never ever experienced a difference in pronounciation between das and dass (or daß back then), even in beginners dictation exercises. The words are also always referred to as "das mit s" vs. "dass mit Doppel-s (or formerly: es-zet)", never as "das mit langem a" vs. "dass mit kurzem a" – Hagen von Eitzen Apr 23 '16 at 18:21
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The unmarked and semi-clear pronunciation of both words is identical. In spite of das having only a single letter, the vowel is short which is common in one-syllable words (compare es, des which also have a short vowel and where the vowel length is phonetic). Which one is which is usually differed grammatically by the type of sentence they are in. So far the theory.

In practice, some additional effects come into play:

  • Speakers have a tendency to reduce the vowel in das into something closer to des (with a shwa). Bavarians (and probably other southerners, too) may even reduce it to ’s. Dass is hardly ever subject to reduction.

  • When dictating, there can be a tendency to overstress the length of dasa making it sound like daas.

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